by Jennifer L. Price

The hardest part of traveling alone as a young woman, for me, is eating dinner. Breakfast isn’t too bad—it’s okay if you read the newspaper or peruse brochures for what you’re going to do that day. Lunch is usually spent on the go anyway, so no one notices if you grab a wrap, pasty, or wűrst to go. People notice, though, especially when you’re a self-declared foodie like me who enjoys well-prepared cuisine and fine wines, when you are eating dinner alone.

I just finished a tasty meal—sitting at a long bare wooden table set for eight people underneath two bright lights with a view of the waiter station all alone. I avoided the couples peeking at me, sitting at their smaller private tables, covered with light blue tablecloths and rose petals along the wide window looking out over the Bavarian Alps—lit by candlelight, of course.

There was no one to share a dessert with, no one to taste my creamy rich garlic soup, no one to confer with over how much to tip—just me, my three glasses of wine (there’s no way a single person could order a whole bottle), and the fly that won’t leave me alone.

When you first enter a restaurant and ask for a table for one, you usually get an odd somewhat shocked look from the waiter. Then, as the evening progresses, it becomes a look of pity. They shower you with attention and continually ask you how you are doing, offer you more drinks (most assume you’re going to at least get drunk if you’re going to eat alone), and try to provide a little bit of conversation while you dine. The attention and conversation is appreciated, but I know pity when I see it—and I don’t need it

I’ve traveled alone several times and enjoy it—I like the freedom of choosing my own schedule, my own restaurants, and my own tourist sites. I like sitting in my hotel room eating both chocolates left on the bed without any clothes on and watching European MTV, stopping to enjoy some ice cream when I want to, and spending time reading the museum’s information signs without anyone hurrying me on.

Dinner, though, is when I realize that I truly am a single woman in a foreign place. London wasn’t too bad—I was so busy with plays and tours at nighttime that all of my dinners were pizza or to-go Thai food in my hotel room. I spent another solo dinner in Germany next to a peaceful lake trying to avoid the intent gaze of a drunk man who wanted to “help me feel welcome.” In Italy, it’s the waiters who won’t leave you alone: “Ahh, yes, you must come to disco with me and my friends. We show you good time. You a bella. We take care of you.” Grazie, but no grazie.

There are plenty of guidebooks that tell you which hotel to stay at, which sites to see and which restaurants to enjoy. But, unfortunately, I haven’t found one yet that tells you how to master that luxurious sumptuous tasty meal, dinner, all by yourself; how to avoid the uncomfortable glances, what to do with your hands during that quiet in-between time while you’re waiting for your food to be served, or how to finish that entire plate all by yourself (my boyfriend usually serves as my personal human garbage can). I wish I could write one of those guidebooks myself, but it’s something that each one of us has to master ourselves—in each particular place, at each particular time.

We all have to find that inner goddess, that inner confidence, that inner pleasure, and those inner thoughts that keep us feeling good, proud, and fully satisfied at any restaurant, in any country, during any meal, at any time. We all have to master the self-reliance it takes to enter a renowned “fancy” restaurant, sit down at a table, order an appetizer, an entrée, a dessert, and wine and just enjoy the meal, and, more importantly, the time all to ourselves.

Tonight, after finishing my dinner and paying my bill (tipping just right, of course), I wanted to call my boyfriend and tell him about my fabulous meal. I wanted to describe the food, the wine, the atmosphere, and how much I missed being able to share all of that with him. But, I didn’t. This perfect meal was between me, my fantastic potato-encrusted pike perch fillet with a side salad, and the fly that loves me.

About the Author

With parents who worked for the US military, Jennifer L. Price was born in
Germany and has been traveling ever since. She’s lived in Europe for most
of her life and loves to travel—meeting new people, trying new things, and
taking on new adventures. Who knows where she’ll be headed next?